Why couldn’t things be simple? Americans get a gold star for exercising more and increasing physical activity rates! According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the number of Americans who met the recommended physical activity guidelines between 2001 and 2009 increased by about 18 percent! That’s the good news. The not so good news is that the overall obesity rates in the country are continuing to rise.

What’s the deal?

Physical Activity and Weight Loss

I remember reading an article in TIME magazine in 2009 that upset me. I took it personal, because of my push to get people to exercise. Basically, the article “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” made that argument that people may be wasting their time if they are exercising to lose weight. At the time, I couldn’t believe that a reputable magazine would publish such an article. Were they not aware of the state of America’s obesity rates at the time? And clearly, exercise burns calories, which can eventually lead to weight loss. So, what was the point?

Now that I have a bit more experience and knowledge than I did 4 years ago, I see the point that the author was making. Yes it is true that exercise burns calories, but not enough. During a fairly intense 45-minute run, you may be lucky to burn about 300 calories. Fortunately, we also know that calories are burned after your workout. This is even more true for high-intensity workout routines.

But here lies the problem. Let’s be generous. Let’s say you burn 500 total calories for each workout. Keep in mind that there are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat. With all things considered, it would take a total of 7 high-intensity workout routines for you to burn 1 pound of fat! Therefore, it would take over 2 weeks to burn 1 pound of fat.

Exercise also may not lead to weight loss because people may eat more after a workout. There is still a lot of debate as to whether this  affects calorie burn. My take is that it depends on what you eat after your workout. If you are eating high protein foods after your workout, then most of that protein should be going to muscle. If you are eating ice cream, that may be a problem.

Another thing to consider is that weight may not be that important. We should be measuring body fat percentage. People who are lean and muscular may be considered overweight based on current standards. Measuring body fat percentage should be the standard.

Why Americans Aren’t Losing Weight

Weight loss can be complex, but in many cases it can be simple.

Which is easier? 1) 7 high-intensity workouts; or 2) drinking 10 less sodas over a three week period?

They both result in the same calorie deficit, but cutting back ten 350 calorie sodas I hope is easier.

My point is that America needs to put more focus on improving dietary habits. There has been a great push to exercise. Now there needs to be some effort in teaching people healthy dietary habits. Everyday we are see many advertisements and commercials that tell us to eat the biggest burger. When we go out to eat, our plates have three meals worth of food. Even a cup of coffee with all of the “extras” can have as many calories as a meal. This is the problem.

For us to come together and turn around these obesity trends, we need to eat better and stop drinking high-calorie drinks. Of course, the increase in the physical activity rate is a positive shift. Exercise reduces blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, stress and can help to improve many other health factors. But when it comes to obesity, it’s more about what we eat.

Summary

The fact that Americans are exercising more is great! While exercising can help you burn additional calories, it should not be your primary means of burning fat and losing weight. To reverse the obesity epidemic, a tighter focus on eating drinking low-calorie drinks, eating healthy foods and reducing portions should be a top priority.

A calorie saved is a calorie burned.